The vinyl boom isn't slowing. Here in NYC, Rough Trade opened a new 15,000-square-foot record store, and the display space is evenly split between LPs and CDs. Vinyl sales were up 18 percent in 2012, and that growth continued in 2013.
To get the best sound from an LP, you need a decent turntable, and the $179 U Turn Orbit I reviewed a few months ago would be a great place to start. The $449 Rega RP1 turntable will get you even closer to audiophile nirvana.
After you buy a nice 'table the next question will be, how do I get sound out of this thing? You can't just plug it into a standard set of RCA jacks; the turntable's phono cartridge (needle) produces a tiny voltage output, it's just a small fraction of what a CD or MP3 player puts out, so the turntable needs to be hooked up to a "phono preamp" to boost the low output, and provide the correct equalization to produce the best sound. Back in the 1950s, and well into the late 1980s, most receivers and stereo preamps had decent built-in phono preamps. That's no longer the case.
That's why dedicated phono preamps come into the story. The NAD PP2i is a small grey box, just 1.9 inches tall by 5.3 inches wide by 3 inches deep. The front has no controls, the rear panel has jacks to accommodate moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) phono cartridges, and stereo RCA output jacks that you'll connect to your receiver or amp. The PP2i comes with a 2-year warranty.
I auditioned the PP2i with the Orbit and Rega turntables, and really enjoyed its full-bodied sound. The few receivers offered today with built in phono preamps tend to sound thin and harsh; most of what's great about LP sound never makes it to your speakers. By contrast, the PP2i delivers the full measure of analog's grooviness. I compared it with Rega's similarly priced Fono preamp, but preferred the PP2i's richer balance.
The PP2i sells for $169 from NAD's brick and mortar dealers, and from Amazon.